A negative performance review can feel devastating, but it may not be quite the setback it seems. If you're ready for this feedback, it's entirely possible to use it to your long-term advantage.
Here are seven tips for not letting a negative performance review take the wind out of your sails.
1. First, do nothing. The most important thing you can do after hearing less-than-stellar input about your performance is to avoid an impulsive reaction. Because criticism of your work can feel very personal, it's natural to become defensive, try to divert blame onto others or dispute your boss's assessment. But a performance review isn't a debate, and lashing out at your supervisor can quickly turn a challenge into a crisis. If you're upset, ask to discuss the matter again after you've had some time to digest it. For now, just listen to the feedback and attempt to understand it. You won't be able to do that while you're angry or hurt.
2. Put it in perspective. Especially if you're accustomed to successful appraisals, even a mildly critical one can make you feel like you're on the brink of being fired. Unless such a warning was part of your appraisal, that's probably not the case. If your manager is consistently telling you that you need to improve, and the formal review reaffirms these earlier conversations, then you have cause for concern.
Never lose sight of the type of feedback you received, whether it was an ultimatum, a commentary on your overall performance or a concern about a specific aspect of your job. When an employer discusses your performance in terms of how you can be even better at what you do, it usually means he or she wants to protect the company's investment in you -- not abandon it.
While you should take every word of the review seriously, there's probably no reason to panic. Many managers make a point of identifying areas for improvement even among their top performers.
3. Get clarification. Make sure you fully understand any criticism, whether or not you agree with it. Probing for more information may be painful, but it's a necessary step toward improving.
If any of the shortcomings were vague, such as "poor communication," ask your boss for examples. Be careful to frame the discussion as an effort to better understand the comments, not to question your boss's perception, which is often subjective.
4. Correct errors when necessary. If your review contains factual mistakes -- as opposed to assertions you disagree with -- you should correct this information. Your manager won't be able to accurately assess your progress in the period ahead if any concerns that were raised were based on faulty information.
Just be careful not to be overly defensive. If there is any truth at all to what you are hearing, acknowledge it and move on. If you think you have been treated unfairly, most companies have a process for submitting a written rebuttal or employee response to the review. This is your right, but be sure that if there is truth to what you've heard, you accept the feedback and learn from it.
5. Make a plan. Try to translate each criticism in your review into specific actions you can take to improve in these areas. For example, if you were called out for missing too many deadlines, look for ways you can prevent this in the future, such as revamping your calendar and alerts system, establishing a different daily routine or being more careful about overcommitting to projects.
Work with your manager to determine how you can address his concerns, what the next steps should be and how your progress will be measured.
6. Enlist help. If you struggle to improve, ask a colleague or two for input -- or even for help keeping you on track with a particular challenge. Your co-workers may have insights into the realities of your workday that you can't see clearly. Ultimately, however, the most helpful direction is likely to come straight from the source of the criticism: your boss.
7. Follow up. If you were surprised by the criticism, that's a good indicator that you and your supervisor haven't been communicating as well as you could be. Suggest a brief, regular check-in to discuss your progress on key issues. The more closely you work together, the better chance you'll have of avoiding a replay of the negative review.
An honest performance review can help you identify and overcome obstacles that have been holding you back. Many managers are afraid to be candid during these meetings because it can be almost as difficult to give this feedback as it is receive it. If you accept the constructive criticism and work to address it, you'll give yourself a much better chance of receiving a stronger review the next time around.